Her older half-sister, Queen Mary, imprisoned her in the Tower of London. She asked if the scaffold was still up, where Lady Jane Grey, the Queen of Nine Days, was beheaded. Terrifying for her.
Born on 7 Sep 1533 and crowned on 15 Jan 1559, this post covers the years up to her coronation and the ceremony itself.
She was extremely intelligent and well educated—reaching genius levels in languages. Seriously. But how did she get on with her younger half-brother, King Edward, and older half-sister, Queen Mary?
Let’s begin with one genealogical table to get the big picture.
The dynastic storyline is not complicated. The Tudor monarchs died out because she never married and produced an heir. She was England’s virgin queen.
Please click on her grandfather Henry VII’s post for many more genealogical tables that go back the Plantagenets.
FROM BABY TO TEENAGER
- Elizabeth’s mother was Anne Boleyn, younger daughter of Sir Thomas Boleyn, whom Henry VIII made earl of Wilthsire on 8 Dec 1530. Instant millionaire in one day (in Renaissance terms).
- Elizabeth was born to Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, on Sunday, 7 Sep 1533 at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. It was a comparatively easy birth; mother and daughter were fine. But Henry had been deciding between naming his boy Edward or Henry. No. Girl. He named her after his mother. He canceled the celebratory jousting tournament.
- Having auburn hair and coal-dark eyes like her mother, she was christened in the church of the Observant Friars. A great silver bowl was brought over from Canterbury—used ever since Henry VI’s son Edward. Elizabeth was dunked or plunged into the water three times.
- Her nursemaid was Lady Margaret Bryan, who had taken care of Elizabeth’s older half sister Mary, daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, the Spanish princess, now formerly the English queen. Lady Bryan transferred her affection to Elizabeth. Henry VIII recognized her as a baroness.
- The home that was chosen was Hatfield. Then she was moved to the rebuilt “Prince’s Side” at Eltham, her father’s boyhood home, about five miles from Greenwich. The King and Queen Anne paid the princess a visit. Mary arrived at Hatfield. She never addressed her little half-sister as princess because the baby had replaced her in succession, since the marriage between her mother and Henry was contrary to Scripture (in Henry’s mind) and declared void.
- “Elizabeth was teething, and this was causing her much pain and misery. ‘I trust to God and her teeth were well graft to leave her grace [Elizabeth] after another fashion than she is yet,’” so wrote Lady Bryan (Loades 39). The princess was not yet three.
- Early on in her life, Lady Bryan, her mistress who took care of her while her father went about his business, begged Thomas Cromwell, for better clothing: “For she has neither gown nor kirtle nor petticoat nor linen for smocks, nor kerchiefs, mufflers nor begins [night caps]” (qtd. in Borman, 2016, 330). In another post about Elizabeth, one historian speculates that this deprivation explains in part why Elizabeth spent millions on her clothes throughout her long reign (millions in today’s values).
- The Reformists, moving towards Reformation very lightly at this stage, backed the Boleyn’s marriage to Henry, so Elizabeth was groomed in that direction.
- Anne Boleyn was executed on 19 May 1536 on the charge of adultery and hence treason against the king. Elizabeth was too young to know what was going on. Henry didn’t grieve, for he married Jane Seymour on 30 May.
- Mary was beaten (strongly persuaded) into submission, and she and Elizabeth got along well in the same household.
- Jane Seymour died of puerile fever on 24 Oct 1537, after giving birth to Edward (VI) on 12 Oct.
- Now the affections of Lady Bryan shifted over to Edward. Catherine (Kate) Champernon Ashley took over care of Elizabeth, appointed by Thomas Cromwell.
- Elizabeth learned needlework and presented her little brother with a shirt of cambric. A few weeks later she gave him a braser of needlework.
- Elizabeth learned Latin, (a little) Greek, Italian, French and Italic handwriting. Her education improved when Edward was born, for high-quality tutors were assigned to him, and she and her little half-brother lived together.
- In April 1539, the Act of Six Articles established traditional Catholic doctrines for Henry’s newly created Church of England. The goal of the English Reformation early on was to stop Rome’s influence on England, to stop the money flowing to the Eternal City. Henry was still Catholic in his heart and conscience and practice.
- Henry married Anne of Cleves on 8 Jan 1540, but the marriage was annulled on 9 July. In the same year, Henry married Catherine Howard on 28 July, the day Thomas Cromwell was beheaded. On 13 Feb 1542 Catherine Howard was beheaded because she was caught in adultery.
- On 12 July 1543 Henry married Catherine Parr. She will be Elizabeth’s stepmother and play a key role in grooming the princess in Reformation ideas.
- In 1544, now that peace was established in Henry’s household, Mary and Elizabeth—in that order—were restored to their places in succession: Edward, then Mary, and finally Elizabeth.
- On 31 July 1544 Henry crossed to Calais and successfully took Boulogne, a port town. Princess Elizabeth and Edward and Catherine joined Queen Catherine at Leeds castle to celebrate victory on 3 Oct. At first Elizabeth was left behind. Why? Maybe a plague broke out in her area? Was she sick? Unclear. Then the princess joined them later.
- In any case it was Catherine who presided over the new court. Under her guidance, Elizabeth translated from French a religious poem titled Le miroir de l’âme péchresse (The mirror for / of the sinful soul), by Margaret of Angoulême, the favorite sister of King Francis I, and a leading patroness of Reform at the French court. She had also served as hostess when Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, still unwed, visited Francis I at Boulogne in 1532.
- Was the princess’s translation a step too far? To judge from her preface to her translation, she certainly understood the Reformation’s teaching about justification / salvation by grace alone, not merits or good works.
- Elizabeth translated the first chapter of Calvin’s Institute of the Christian Religion and presented it to Queen Catherine Parr on 30 Dec 1545. The cover letter was florid and formal, written in French.
- She translated Queen Catherine’s own “Prayers and Meditations” into Latin! (Loades puts an exclamation point here, p. 55).
- Queen Catherine wrote her own religious texts, and she almost got beheaded for them, by the conservative influencers in Henry’s court—“conservative” in this case meant Catholic.
- King Henry died on 28 Jan 1547, at 2 o’clock in the morning. His body was disemboweled, cauterized and put in a lead chest, lay in state in the Chapel Royal at Whitehall. On 16 Feb he was buried at Windsor.
- Obeying the Royal Book for coronations, Edward, under the watchful eye of his Uncle Edward Seymour, his Protector or Regent, took up residence in the Tower of London.
- Edward was crowned at Westminster Abbey on Sunday 20 Feb. Archbishop Cranmer’s sermon said kings were accountable only to God, so a kind of royal autocracy was announced.
- Thomas Seymour, King Edward’s uncle, went fishing for a prize. Under the new king he was made Lord Admiral and Lord Seymour of Sudeley, a barony, while his brother Edward became Lord Protector and was made Duke of Somerset. In other words, Edward Seymour monopolized all the power. Grudge.
- Athletic and younger than his brother, Thomas Seymour observed that Catherine Parr had a generous settlement from Henry’s will and was the guardian of Princess Elizabeth. Thomas and Catherine got married in mid-April, 1547, this time to Catherine’s pleasure, for he was nice looking. She had been interested in him before Henry swept her up. Thomas is now Elizabeth’s stepfather.
- He managed to get Jane Grey to live in his household. Elizabeth was not alone, but had a woman her own age.
- But Thomas took the key to Elizabeth’s bedchamber. He used to come into her bedroom early in the morning. If she was up, he swatted her on the back or backside, familiarly–he reportedly did that once. If she was still in bed, he sat on it aggressively, while she scooted to the far side.
- But Elizabeth seemed to have fallen for him, nonetheless. She had blossomed into a pretty young teenage girl. He stole kisses from her and “played” with her maids, and snatched embraces from her, under his wife’s nose.
- A few times even Catherine joined in the romps (so to speak). They both went into her bedroom and tickled her. Then later in the garden, she held Elizabeth while he cut her dress into a hundred pieces. Historian David Starkey suggests that there was sex involved, at times.
- In May 1548 Kate Ashley decided things went too far and sent Elizabeth off to stay with Sir Anthony Denny and his wife at Chestnut. She was Kate Ashley’s sister.
- Catherine died of puerile fever (in childbirth) on 7 Sep. She had the first Protestant royal funeral.
- With Catherine out of the way, Thomas set his eyes on Elizabeth for marriage. This time Kate Ashley favored the match. No matter. Plotting to marry the princess is a capital offence against the king because marriage to her without permission would take away international diplomacy.
- However, during the investigations into Thomas’s and Elizabeth’s possible dalliances or playfulness, Elizabeth insisted on an announcement from parliament that she never went too far with Thomas. She wrote: People “have told me that there goes rumours abroad which be greatly against both mine honour and my honesty, which above all other things I esteem, which be those; that I am in the Tower with child by my Lord Admiral [Thomas Seymour]. My lord, these are shameful slanders” (qtd. in Loades 68).
- No matter, for he had been intriguing against his brother Edward, Governor and Protector of King Edward. Thomas was beheaded on 20 Mar 1549, on Tower Hill.
- At Hatfield, Elizabeth was alone. Then the greatest Cambridge scholar at that time was appointed to keep teaching her: Roger Ascham. He wrote his personal thoughts about himself, which were really about his student, Elizabeth.
- Apparently she really was brilliant. In her old age she translated Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy (Latin philosopher) into English. A genuinely very talented thing to do.
- I say this achievement and her gift for languages, even ancient Greek, puts her at genius levels in those subjects, though this is difficult to measure. Certainly she was more intelligent than most people of any century.
- Finally, she learned penmanship, and so her signatures had all sorts of flourishes—beautiful.
- Stern judge of the unrighteous, Bishop John Hooper wrote of Elizabeth’s Protestantism: “Not only does she know true religion, but she has become so strong in Latin and Greek that she is capable of defending it with the most judicious arguments and dexterous ability, so that she is victorious over almost all adversaries she encounters” (qtd. in Loades 72).
EDWARD THE KING
- Her younger half-brother Edward was born on 12 Oct 1537 at Hampton Court. He succeeded on 28 Jan 1547.
- One of Elizabeth’s New Year’s gift in 1552 to king Edward was her translation from the Italian to Latin of Bernardino Ochino’s “Sermon on the Nature of Christ,” prefaced with a Latin dedicatory letter to her half-brother. Talented.
- Politically Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, fell from power. He had been arrogant and grasping, and the council turned against him. In response, he took Edward to Windsor. That was a coup d’etat.
- Into the vacuum slipped John Dudley, who was a stronger Protestant. He was the father of Robert Dudley, who to have known Elizabeth since she was eight, childhood friends or acquaintances, in other words. But he marred Amy Robsart in June 1550, and there is no hint he stayed in Elizabeth’s household.
- A Reformed Prayer Book in English was introduced, guided by Archbishop Cranmer. Parliament said it was not Dudley’s alone, but the Parliament’s and council’s too.
- Somerset’s fall opened up wealth for Princess Elizabeth, which she pushed for. She was no passive young woman—dozens of manors houses and other parcels, grouped by county. The jewel in the property crown was Ashbridge, with a bedchamber of 48 ft. x 24 ft.
- The Princess had a household staff of 140-48 at Hatfield, her principal seat.
- The enrichment of Elizabeth was part of religious politics. Edward and the council favored the new religion—Reformism. They were strengthening their hand by strengthening Elizabeth’s, for on Christmas day, 1549, the king and council declared they would continue the Protestant Reformation, while Mary was a declared Catholic.
- Kett’s rebellion broke out in 1549, in protest of the new religion, the Reformation. Over-zealous reformers broke statues, stained glass windows, and altars, and Catholics fought back. It was crushed, however.
- From 1550 to 1553, Elizabeth and Mary were rivals and played a game of one-upmanship. Each would show up at Edward’s court with great fanfare and numerous retainers.
- In one of Mary’s grand entrances she and her retainers carried rosaries. While at court Mary demanded she be allowed to practice her religion in freedom and hold mass. She had the backing of the Holy Roman Emperor, her cousin, Charles V. Through his ambassador he threatened war. The king relented, and she got her mass.
- Just before he died, Edward did a surprising thing. His father’s will said that if Mary or Elizabeth have no issue, then the descendants of Henry’s sister Mary should be monarch, in this case Lady Jane Grey. He wrote up a legal “Device” of dubious authority that skipped over Mary and Elizabeth and went to Jane Grey.
- Why? He was manipulated by John Dudley to advance his son Lord Guildford Dudley, who had married Lady Jane. Or maybe Edward was prejudiced against his two sisters who had been declared bastards and legitimate in turns. Elizabeth appeared more Protestant than Catholic, but not firm. Better a firmly Protestant cousin (Jane) than Catholic half-sister. And the Dudleys would see advancement too.
- On 6 July 1553, Edward died of tuberculosis (one historian says pneumonia and other specialists say other things).
LADY JANE GREY
- Lady Jane Grey succeeded, but it is unknown whether she was crowned, probably not (unless it was private), for the London crowds and many others were unhappy with the new queen. Mary’s mother, Catherine of Aragon, had been badly mistreated by Henry VIII years earlier, and his will said Mary should be queen, next. And there were numerous Catholics in England who liked Mary.
- Mary sent a letter to the council, which said she was the rightful heir and should be queen.
- Mary had thought about letting her go since she was young and manipulated (she was born in Oct 1537).
- But then when the parliament revolted against Mary’s plan to return property back to the church (see below), Jane and Dudley were implicated, and she was beheaded on 12 Feb 1554. She was buried at the Church of St. Peter and Vinclua within the Tower of London.
(Jane Grey, Queen of Nine Days: she was not a Tudor)
Elizabeth, Part 1: Early Years
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—, Chronicle of the Tudor Queens (Sutton 2002).
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